When the word Hawaii is mentioned, thought bubbles of white sandy beaches, flowers in alcoholic beverages and swimming with dolphins might come to mind. For many of the inhabitants of this exquisite and endangered environment, however, life in paradise can be far from ideal.

Most tourists would be hard-pressed to imagine 500 tons of TNT blasting into a pristine shoreline or toxic sewage flowing into the waters of Waikiki or whales beaching themselves to escape Navy sonar testing. A mother delivering a deformed infant doesn’t come to the minds of most vacationers.

Hawaii is, however, the “endangered species capital of the world.” It stands to reason that the United States military, being the greatest polluter and largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet, might have something to do with that unacceptable fact.

There are 57 known military sites on Moku o Keawe (Hawaii Island) alone, totaling more than 250,000 acres; the equivalent of nine islands the size of Kahoolawe.

They’ve been bombing and polluting these islands with impunity for over a century, paying only $1 a year for leased lands at Pohakuloa Training Area, for example.

Civil Beat reporter Anita Hofschneider takes a moment to reflect at Sailor's Hat, Kahoolawe. 9.30.14
Sailor’s Hat on Kahoolawe, where the Navy dropped a 500-pound TNT bomb to simulate the effects of an atomic blast. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

It is the most militarized group of islands in the world, and though the military is not known for its environmental acumen, they proudly claim to be responsible stewards of both land and sea. Many view that claim as ridiculous while others see it as nothing shy of criminal.

It began with the Bayonet Constitution and Reciprocity Treaty of 1887 when the exclusive use of Pearl Harbor was granted to the U.S. Navy. In 1893, one of its warships, the USS Boston, landed troops in Honolulu to support a handful of treasonous sugar barons plotting to invade the internationally recognized, neutral Hawaiian Kingdom.

Hawaii Not Part Of America

The illegal occupation of Hawaii since that time has been a relentlessly painful thorn in the side of the Kanaka Maoli. It is also much to the dismay of human rights activists, environmentalists, history students and scholars, lawyers and other concerned citizens of the world.

With no proof of purchase or Treaty of Annexation, Hawaii is not actually or legally part of the United States. The U.S. Congress passed a “Joint Resolution” disguised as a Treaty of Annexation, legally binding only within its own borders. The military therefore has no legal jurisdiction here and in any case, should not be permitted to decimate Hawaii for “war games” in the name of national security.

In the past hundred years it has transformed scores of fertile valleys, fishing grounds and sacred sites into barren wastelands and burial grounds for unexploded ammunitions.

The once pristine Puuloa (Pearl Harbor,) for example, a major fish-breeding center, is now a Superfund toxic waste dump. Millions of gallons of radioactive liquid waste have been discharged directly into Pearl Harbor along with other told and untold military toxins.

The illegal occupation of Hawaii has been a painful thorn in the side of the Kanaka Maoli

The leaking of 250-million-gallon fuel tanks at Red Hill has put the island’s drinking supply at risk. More than 2,000 55-gallon drums of radioactive solid waste from refueling Navy submarine nuclear reactors were just simply dumped off the southern shores of Oahu. The cumulative environmental impacts are too numerous to mention, and yet there is an appalling lack of accountability and no up-to-date environmental impact study.

Still worse is the condition of Kahoolawe, used for target practice for over 50 years. An EIS done specifically for “The Target Isle” in the 1980s reported tens of thousands of unexploded bombs, some as deep as 20 feet underground. When the above-mentioned 500 tons of TNT was detonated in 1965, it likely cracked the water table of the island sacred to the Hawaiian people.

Today, Kahoolawe is still polluted and uninhabitable regardless of the military’s promised partial $400 million cleanup, along with decades of volunteer restoration efforts by Native Hawaiians and the federally funded Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.

Pirates Of Plunder

Only 68 percent of Kahoolawe’s surface has been cleared, only 9 percent to a depth of 4 feet and absolutely zero percent of the surrounding waters. And yet the blame for this astounding environmental destruction, according to Wikipedia, belongs to pre-contact Hawaiians when: “violent wars among competing alii (chiefs) laid waste to the land.

Here on Moku o Keawe, live ordnance has been found on several beaches, in residential areas and even on public school grounds. At least nine people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance.

The author on a visit to Kahoolawe. Courtesy

No one knows how many birth defects have resulted from military activity over these many decades of belligerent occupation. No one knows how many have been exposed to depleted uranium oxide, the deadliest form of radiation when inhaled. The military claims that DU is not dangerous, but when DU is aerosolized during live fire training, DU oxide dust is created, a known cause of cancer, birth defects and genetic damage.

That means it is a trans-generational threat, not only to the military personnel and all who live or visit here, but to all their offspring as well.

Hawaii is also ground zero for GMO experimentation, spraying nearly 17 times more pesticides compared with the entire rest of the United States. Hawaii is also home to RIMPAC — the world’s largest U.S.-led “war games,” involving 26 nations, 45 ships, five submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 military personnel.

With projects on the horizon like the Navy’s Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing expansion and the unethical Thirty Meter Telescope (an 18-story telescope on the top of Hawaii’s tallest and most sacred mountain), terms like “overkill” come to mind. Not to mention the Army’s environmental assessment published last week of “no significant Impact” to cultural and religious sites at the Pohakuloa Training Area, where more than 14 million live rounds are fired annually.

With so many people of such honor and integrity serving the U.S. military, it is a travesty for it to be behaving more like pirates of plunder than protectors of peace.

In any case, perhaps it is time to question why this degree of reckless destruction and illegal activity would be a prerequisite for national security. When does enough become enough?

For many, that time was a long time ago, but it most certainly is now before the next “perfect wave” of military expansion rolls in and over the rights of the kanaka maoli, their beloved Hawaii and all who live and visit here. For more information visit http://malu-aina.org.

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